The Port Harcourt refinery complex is undergoing a £1.08bn ($1.5bn) rehabilitation programme. Image courtesy of Roy Luck/Flickr.
The Port Harcourt refinery complex is owned and operated by Port Harcourt Refining Company, a subsidiary of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). Image courtesy of Sludge G/Flickr.
The Port Harcourt refinery complex has an oil refining capacity of 210,000bpd. Image courtesy of Rongy Benjamin/Flickr.

The Port Harcourt refinery located in the oil-rich Niger Delta region of Nigeria has been operational since 1965. It is the oldest and the biggest of the three government-owned oil refining sites in the West African country.

Port Harcourt Refining Company (PHRC), a wholly-owned subsidiary of the state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), is the owner and operator of the refinery.

The oil refinery complex consists of a 60,000 barrels per day (bpd) old refinery that started operations in 1965 and a 150,000bpd new refinery that came on stream in 1989.

Despite having a combined crude processing capacity of 210,000bpd, the Port Harcourt refinery, like other state refineries of the country, has been operating only at a fraction of its capacity over the last few decades due to process inefficiency and lack of maintenance. This has led to the growing reliance of Nigeria, Africa’s largest crude producer, on imports of refined petroleum products.

The Nigerian government approved £1.08bn ($1.5bn) spending to rehabilitate and upgrade the Port Harcourt refinery complex in March 2021. The key contract for the refinery modernisation was also awarded in the same month.

The Port Harcourt refinery rehabilitation project, being undertaken in three phases, is expected to be completed by 2025. NNPC aims to restore the Port Harcourt refinery complex to 90% of its design capacity by the end of 2022.

Financing for the Port Harcourt refinery rehabilitation

The funding for the refinery upgrade is planned to come from internally generated revenue (IGR) of NNPC, the Nigerian Federal Government’s budgetary provisions, and the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank).

Refinery location

The Port Harcourt refinery complex is located at Alesa Eleme, approximately 25km east of Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Nigeria.

Port Harcourt refinery processes and products

The new Port Harcourt refinery comprises a crude distillation unit (CDU), a vacuum distillation unit (VDU), a naphtha hydrotreating unit (NHTU), a catalytic reforming unit (CRU), a continuous catalyst regeneration (CCR) unit, a kerosene hydrotreating unit, a fluid catalytic cracking (FCC) unit, and a dimersol unit to convert propylene into a gasoline blendstock.

It also houses a butamer isomerisation unit, an alkylation unit, apart from hydrogen purification, fuel gas vaporiser, sour water and caustic treatment units.

The old refinery comprises a CDU, a CRU, and a liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) facility.

The refinery complex uses four turbo-generators of 14MW an hour of electricity generation capacity each and four boilers of 120 tonnes (t) an hour of steam generation capacity each.

The refinery products include petrol, diesel, LPG, aviation and domestic kerosene, low pour fuel oil (LPFO), and heavy pour fuel oil (HPFO).

Contractors involved in Port Harcourt refinery rehabilitation

Tecnimont, a subsidiary of Italy’s Maire Tecnimont, was awarded an engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contract worth £1.08bn ($1.5bn) for full rehabilitation of the refinery complex in April 2021.

Tecnimont and Tecnimont Nigeria, two subsidiaries of Maire Tecnimont, were also awarded a contract worth £38m ($50m) for phase one of the refinery in March 2019. The contractual scope included integrity check and equipment inspections of the Port Harcourt refinery complex as part of the preparation for the rehabilitation works.

Oil refineries in Nigeria

The other two major refineries in Nigeria are the 125,000bpd Warri refinery commissioned in 1978 and the 110,000bpd Kaduna refinery that has been operational since 1980. The Warri refinery located at Ekpan, Warri, Delta State, Nigeria, is operated by Warri Refining and Petrochemical Company (WRPC), while the Kaduna refinery is located in the Kaduna State of Nigeria and operated by Kaduna Refining and Petrochemical Company (KRPC).

WRPC and KRPC, the two subsidiaries of NNPC, last processed crude oil in May 2019 and June 2019, respectively.

Nigeria’s Federal Executive Council (FEC) approved the award of contracts worth £1.06bn ($1.48bn) for the rehabilitation of the WRPC and KRPC refineries in August 2021. NNPC also received approval from the FEC to pick up 20% stake in the privately-owned Dangote refinery project for £1.98bn ($2.76bn) the same month. The Dangote refinery is expected to come on stream in 2022.